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Sandown Soil Lab

"Whatever we do to the land, we do to ourselves"

- Wendell Barry 

Soil Health 101 and Why it Matters!

Soil is the foundation for all life on earth, and yet, we mostly treat it like dirt. In contemporary agriculture, soil is seen as a growing medium, and the complex relationships between soil and plants is undermined and damaged through the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and repetitive tilling. These practices kill soil biology, and also cause significant pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, increasing climate change and severely impacting environmental and human health. 

The Soil/Food Web 

Soil is made up of particles of sand, silt and clay, mixed with organic matter (dead plants, animals and bugs), water, oxygen and life.  It is home to a complex and interconnected network of living organisms, called the soil/food web. Contained in just a tablespoon of healthy soil is a microscopic universe, with billions of living organisms, all working together to support plant health and ecosystem vitality. This dynamic community includes bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and other microorganisms. These organisms interact in a symbiotic way, each playing a role in nutrient, water and carbon cycling, organic matter decomposition, plant health and nutrition, disease suppression, and more.

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The above graphic illustrates how the soil/food web functions. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, convert the carbon into carbohydrates in the form of sugars, and release oxygen back into the atmosphere. The sugars are sent to the plant's root zone, called the rhizosphere, where most soil biology lives. Plants release excess sugars through their roots to feed the bacteria and fungi living at the rhizosphere and in exchange, the bacteria and fungi break down mineral particles and organic matter in the soil, creating plant available nutrients (like nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium and magnesium - there are 18 in total). 

Restoring and protecting the soil/food web is foundational to regenerative agriculture.
By supporting a diverse and thriving soil ecosystem, regenerative practices improve soil structure, nutrient cycling and ecosystem health and contribute to environmental conservation, carbon sequestration, climate mitigation, and sustainable, productive farming.

Sandown Soil Lab

In partnership with our fearless Soil Lab leader Brooke Hayes, from the UVIC EcoSoil Lab, we are building back the soil biology at Sandown through the application of compost tea and extracts. We make biologically active compost piles and brew the finished compost as tea in our compost bubbler. Farmers then apply this tea to the soil, increasing the microbe population!


The Sandown soils are compacted and degraded, and there was little soil biology when we started in 2021. We are measuring the changes in the soil’s biology, physical properties and organic matter over time, to track the restoration of the Sandown soil. In just three years we have already seen dramatic improvements!

Sandown is a living laboratory, and the farmers are research partners in this fascinating and important work!

Soil Year One (2021)

Watch this farmer footage from their plot in year one. WARNING - If you love soil as much as we do, this may be hard to watch. 

Soil Year Three (2023)

Watch this interview for CHEK NEWS to learn more about the Soil Lab, see Brooke in action, and get an update on the soil from the same plot in year three.  Spoiler alert - things have improved dramatically! 

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